A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

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Location: Virginia, United States

Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Poor Clare Colettines in Cleveland

A few years ago, the Catholic Church was trying to choose a patron saint of the internet and St. Clare was in the running…I suppose since the Seraphic Mother is the patron Saint of television, the Church didn’t think that she’d mind looking after the internet either. Although I believe that the Church ultimately chose a different Saint, I have no doubt that St. Clare has continued to guide me even as I randomly “surf” the web. After all, I randomly “discovered” the Japanese Poor Clares mentioned on my last post while surfing the net. Similarly, I just found out that there is a large Poor Clare Colettine monastery in Cleveland, OH….and I had no idea that one even existed! Even more, it is the oldest permanent Poor Clare Colettine monastery in the United States. I’d like to share with you their wonderful, very informative website:

The Cleveland Poor Clares’ homepage can be found here. If you really want to delve into the website, reserve about a half-hour to look at it because it is very extensive, but one of the most informative Poor Clare websites I’ve come across.

One feature that I particularly like is this chart of the Poor Clare Colettine monasteries in the United States. Visitors on the Barhamsville Poor Clares blog have been asking a lot of questions about the different P.C.C. monasteries in the U.S., so perhaps this should clear up some of the confusion.

The vocation section of the Cleveland Poor Clares’ website is outstanding in terms of the information that it provides. In particular, the photo-journey of a Poor Clare’s vocation is wonderful. Check out the beautiful photos of the postulant in her wedding gown during her simple-vows: wearing of a wedding gown during simple vows is a Poor Clare Colettine tradition! The nuns are very insightful by not stopping the photo-journey at the stage of full-professed….they realize that vocation is a life-long process that continues long after solemn profession.

Another section on here that other Poor Clare websites don’t have is information about extern sisters. Extern sisters, as the Cleveland Poor Clares explain, are the sisters who are not enclosed but make it easier that the enclosed sisters can carry out their vocation of prayer. As Mother Mary Francis explains in her book “A Right to be Merry,” extern sisters are living out their Poor Clare vocation just as much as their enclosed sisters are and they are a vital part of the monastery.

Also, be sure to take a look at the pictures of the building itself. If you are lucky enough to be within driving distance of the Cleveland Poor Clare monastery, try to stop by their public chapel- it looks absolutely gorgeous!

Pax et Bonum!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Poor Clare Nuns in Japan

I’ve been re-reading In This House of Brede, one of my favorite books of all time. In the book, several Japanese postulants enter an English Abbey of Benedictine nuns and after their solemn profession they form a foundation Abbey over in Japan.

Fittingly enough, I found a website for a monastery of Poor Clares over in Japan. This abbey of fifteen nuns is a foundation of a Poor Clare monastery in Boston. Incidentally, I came across their website accidentally….I was actually trying to look for the website of the Poor Clares in Alexandria, VA but came across the Japanese Poor Clares’ website instead!

A very talented web publisher who actually has never met these Japanese Poor Clares put together this lovely website. Included in this website is a letter written by the foundress of the community, Sr. Mary Pius. Sr. Pius speaks about the challenges and joys involved with moving to a culture not traditionally associated with the Poor Clares. However, she describes how many elements of Japanese culture seem ready-made for acceptance of the Poor Clare way of life. Please look at the letter here, accompanied by some beautiful pictures!

Another beautiful part of the website is a series of Japanese prints depicting life in the Poor Clare monastery in Japan. Unfortunately, I do not understand Japanese so I cannot provide any further commentary on the prints. However, the love and effort with which these prints were obviously created transcend the language barriers. Here are the first series of prints, and here are the second. If any friends of ‘Canticle of Chiara’ can translate these lovely prints, please enlighten us!

If you’re ever having a bad day and need a little ‘pick-me-up,’ visiting the Japanese Poor Clares’ website and seeing the joyful smiles on their faces (especially in this hilarious picture) is the next-best-thing to actually going to Japan and visiting them!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Jumping on the "YouTube" Bandwagon

Brother Sun Sister Moon

So it was only a matter of time before I finally jumped on the YouTube bandwagon...but since it's free, I'm sure Holy Mother Clare wouldn't disapprove. I think Holy Mother Clare would be especially excited that one of her daughters from the Barhamsville Poor Clare monastery makes a brief appearance at the end of this lovely Franciscan themed video. If you notice the picture of the nun reading a book in a garden, that's one of my "sisters" from Bethlehem Poor Clare Monastery!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

An Epiphany Gift from the Poor Clares

In past centuries as well as some Catholic countries around the world today, Epiphany is the day on which gifts are traditionally received, rather than on Christmas Day. Needless to say, my family has always observed the American custom of opening our gifts on Christmas, which is always a very joyful occasion. However, I understand the rationale behind receiving gifts on Epiphany- it’s a beautiful way of sharing the experience of giving and receiving with the Holy Family. Just as I received wonderful gifts from my earthly family on Christmas Day, I also received a beautiful gift from my spiritual “sisters” on the Feast of Epiphany!

As a background, the Poor Clares in Barhamsville- a very rural town- used to have a monastery in Newport News- a highly populated small city- up until three years ago. Even though I never knew about the Poor Clares when they lived in their old monastery, the nuns were beloved by the Newport News community. Each Sunday, the Poor Clares would invite the local community to join them in their public chapel for evening Vespers, rosary, and Benediction. Supposedly this had become a very popular Sunday tradition during the decades that they were in Newport News. When the nuns moved to the new monastery located an hour away from Newport News, many of the nuns’ friends and benefactors found that they couldn’t visit them as frequently. Furthermore, I believe that the nuns were having trouble finding a priest to regularly say Benediction, since Barhamsville is little more than a hamlet. You can read more about the situation on the Poor Clares’ blog.

The Poor Clares now have a wonderful new chaplain, and so they wanted to give a “gift” to both their old and new friends in the area. Hence, they organized a special Epiphany Vespers and Benediction that featured a rosary with beautiful medieval and modern carols sung by the nuns! The nuns were preparing this a couple of months in advance, which also involved my distributing around the area the little flyers that they had made for the event. The picture that they used on the flyer is pictured above.

Epiphany itself was a very gray and dismal day in terms of the weather. In spite of the rain and the wind, I was happy to find that there was a large and diverse turnout for the Benediction- men and women of all ages, families, single persons, couples, and even the neighboring farmer’s dog (the nuns are Franciscans, after all) showed up for the event!

Fittingly enough, a statue of St. Clare- whose name means ‘light’- stood near two large doors that opened unto the beautiful public chapel which was filled with extraordinary brightness and warmth. All of the chapel’s light seemed to emanate from a golden monstrance which held Our Lord, who is the very source of all brightness. This was a brightness that made me forget that the weather outside was ever rainy and gray.

Someone once described Poor Clare nuns’ chant as being like a stream that flows peacefully. Certainly, it is a stream that occasionally bubbles and babbles with one or two nuns going flat- but this only adds to its beauty and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes I don’t know where the stream is going- I get lost and can’t follow along in the missalette- but it only adds to its quiet mystery. How ever loud or quiet this stream flows, the Poor Clares’ chant is a stream so peaceful, gentle, and beautiful that it ultimately carries me into the depths of my baptized soul as I gaze upon Our Lord in the monstrance.

After Vespers, which is a regular part of the nuns’ Sunday evening, they headed into the special part of the evening- a sung rosary. They said the joyful mysteries of the rosary and in between each decade, the nuns sang harmonized medieval and modern carols accompanied by the organ.

These exquisite carols were the nuns’ special gifts to all of us hearing them- and they were indeed gifts that were a bit unexpected but were extremely beautiful. I was a bit surprised to hear the nuns harmonize, since I’ve usually only heard them sing in plainchant. Furthermore, I was in awe as to how very beautiful the nuns sounded during these carols. All of the carols were very lovely, but as I heard the carol after the second decade, I thought to myself in all earnestness ‘this is a sampling of how the songs in Heaven will sound!’

Beyond the musical beauty of the carols, they were especially beautiful because the carols were a gift of love from the nuns to all of us. The music and prayers that they made on that night are a testament to how these nuns have said ‘yes’ to Christ’s Gospel call to go and bear fruit. Even though those in the public chapel could not see any of the nuns behind the wall, the music that all of us on the other side could hear was indeed the ‘fruit’ of their love. In effect, their music and prayers on that Feast of Epiphany was the Poor Clares’ way of saying ‘I love you’ to both God and all of us in the world.

We love you, too, Sisters! The Benediction Liturgy that you had prepared for so many hours was one of the most beautiful gifts that anyone could receive on Epiphany!

Friday, January 05, 2007

St. Bernard of Clairvaux Comic Book

Hooray for the first post of 2007! I made my annual trip up to New York last weekend and was like a kid in a candy shop at the Daughters of St. Paul Bookstore. Among my purchases, I made several additions to my growing collection of Saint comic books, which includes one on St. Therese and another on St. Clare. One of the many things that I love about these wonderful little books- besides the reasonable $1.50 price- is that with the exception of Therese and Clare, they focus on Saints with whom many children might not be familiar. As a case in point, I purchased a comic about St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who is a Saint that was very unfamiliar to me. How wonderful it is to have finally “met” this amazing Saint!

You can order the comic book here. It’s a very solid overview of a rather complicated life. I’d particularly recommend it for young people who are into medieval adventure stories such as “Prince Valiant,” or “Robin Hood” (monks of Clairvaux= the band of merry men). In fact, when I was looking up information for this post, I came across a rather secular medieval fantasy website; St. Bernard was the only religious figure listed on the site, but he was featured rather prominently! You can read more about St. Bernard here.

For lack of a better description, the life and character of St. Bernard reminded me of certain aspects of some of my other favorite Saints. His youthful pursuit of military glory and later renunciation of his family’s wealth reminded me of St. Francis. Similar to St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bernard was called to identify the true papacy. Certainly Bernard’s charismatic preaching style was a model for St. Dominic and his Order of Preachers. Furthermore, just as St. Colette traveled beyond the walls of her cloister in order to reform her order, St. Bernard went against his own desire to remain in his monastery in order to follow the will of God.

Following from that thought, I can’t help but think of the similarities between St. Bernard and Pope Benedict XVI. Beset with health problems in his later years, St. Bernard greatly desired that God allow him to stay in his beloved monastery in order to continue with his scholarly writings. However, it was God’s will that Bernard leave Clairvaux one last time in order to help recruit for the Second Crusade. Similarly, Joseph Ratzinger had been looking forward to his retirement, upon which he could live out the rest of his years in quiet study and contemplation. However, God willed it that he be led where he did not want to go….in order to lead the flock of the Church. Perhaps St. Bernard can be a model for us all in trying to accept God’s will for us in our lives.

Since they’ve come this far by making a comic book about this remarkable Saint, perhaps someone will make a decent movie about him!

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